Most people know the importance of diet and exercise for health, but not many people truly appreciate just how important sleep is. A bad night’s sleep can affect you on a hormonal level (men who sleep badly had lower waking testosterone than men who had a good night). It can increase your appetite (not great for anyone on a diet). Affect your focus and cognition and ruin your gym session. Bad sleep can slow down recovery from exercise and is one contributor to overtraining.
Sorting out your sleep can bring many benefits. Better recovery, improved focus, improved mood, dieting becomes easier, lifting becomes easier, it can even improve your stress levels.
A famous study by Mah et al (2011) looked at the benefits of sleep extension (i.e. sleeping 10 hours or more) on athletic performance . The researchers found that athletes who slept for longer were able to play better. Their reactions were faster, their fatigue was lower, they were more powerful, and their focus was improved. Their mood was better too.
Sadly, many people find sleeping for 8 hours very difficult to do. Often this is due to factors that are outside of their control (new born baby, shift work, stress, long commutes to and from work). But sometimes, bad sleep can be prevented.
Creating a sleep routine is a great starting point. Going to bed at the same time every single night conditions your body to fall asleep quicker. Waking up at the same time each morning can teach your body to feel fresher in the morning. Avoiding blue lights from your phone, tablet, or tv for 30 minutes before bedtime is another game changer.
Using a stimulant-free pre-workout when you train late at night can make a big difference, as caffeine can stay active in the bloodstream for several hours after ingestion and affect sleep. But another (often overlooked) way to help you sleep is to look at your diet.
The Best Foods to Help you Sleep
The foods mentioned below, are not necessarily the best foods for helping you sleep. But they are the best foods to help you sleep that you could happily take before going to bed. Eggs, for example are a fantastic food for improving sleep … but who is going to cook eggs before going to bed? Nobody. However, eating a banana or drinking a glass of milk? Much more likely.
Food #1 Banana
The banana is a great pre-bed food choice firstly because it requires no preparation, and complicates a lot of the other foods on this list. But also because it works! Bananas are a great source of magnesium and potassium. Both magnesium and potassium can improve sleep quality. Potassium improving your ability to fall into a deep sleep, while magnesium has been repeatedly shown to improve sleep quality in people who suffer from disordered sleep .
Food #2 Milk
Many people will remember being offered a glass of milk before bed to help them sleep as a child. This was actually factually accurate advice. Milk can help you sleep in a number of ways. It is able to increase serotonin, is a great source of tryptophan (an amino acid that can improve sleep) and is also a source of calcium (which can increase melatonin). It’s also very cheap to drink, and involves very little effort!
Food #3 Whey Protein
This next food is a little controversial (or as controversial as a “food for sleep” article entry can get) in that it doesn’t necessarily improve your sleep. However, it can massively improve your recovery from exercise while you sleep. A 2012 study found that consuming protein before sleep improved overnight recovery from exercise .
As exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, this addition is justified in our opinion. Also, whey protein can easily be combined with milk (and even a banana if you have a blender) to make the ultimate pre-sleep drink.
Food #4 Cottage Cheese
An excellent source of both tryptophan and calcium which as we have previously established improve sleep quality and duration. The only downside is that cottage cheese tastes awful. You could of course combine it with milk a banana, and whey protein to create your ultimate pre-sleep drink but that may be a bit much before bed. Then again, some people like cottage cheese! Who are we to judge?
Food #5 Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of magnesium, potassium, and are also easy to eat. They can be surprisingly high in calories though, so worth keeping that in mind if you are trying to lose weight! Also, they are very light, so your body won’t have to work overtime digesting them.
Food #6 Supplements
While there are many foods that can help you sleep better, it should also be mentioned that supplements such as ZMA also work very well for improving sleep quality. They are easy to take and can be combined with some of the foods on this list if you want.